Sunday, 28 August 2016

Panning for patch gold

A dreary, blustery morning was spent trudging over the downs and heaths just south of Banstead. That sentence contains more than its fair share of negative and despondent words, but that is how I felt. A lot of effort for little reward. There were many hedgerows, copses and fields apparently devoid of birds, with even the distant call of a Chiffchaff bringing forth bursts of excitement that were disproportionate to the event itself. But us inland (water-body free) patch birders are hardened to this sort of stuff, so I plodded on. After all, it is the season of surprises...

When I got to Mogador things did pick up a bit. This area of farmland, paddock and rough grassland has become a bit of a favourite of mine. It is good for passage chats, and during the winter there is normally a sizeable Redwing and Fieldfare flock. One day this place will turn up something very good indeed. But not today, although single Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher (left) are not to be sniffed at.

Locally, I burnt myself out last year by spending far too much time (and often entirely on foot) thrashing areas that were, at best, moderate for birds. The trouble is, some of them look quite good. Colley Hill is a case in point: it is at elevation; with a steep scarp slope; offers commanding views to the south (all the way to the South Downs); with very birdable scrub... all that is missing are the birds. My hours spent there have turned up just a handful of Red Kites and the realisation that visible migration bypasses it entirely. It is good for plants though!

To counter the threat of another dose of 'enthusiasm loss', this year I have been taking it very easy. Only going out when I've really fancied it. Stopped flogging dead horses. And it's kind of worked. The mini-uber bird list for 2015 checked out on an underwhelming 95 species. As of this morning, 2016's total is already one better, with a few 'shoe-ins' still to come. What has helped is a run of hard-to-get local rarities, such as Egyptian Goose, Gadwall, Honey-buzzard, Goshawk, Iceland Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Ring Ouzel and Dartford Warbler. Looking at that list, I've got a nerve to complain about the area at all! But each of those has been a jewel hidden amongst one very large hill of crap. But that is the birders lot wherever they may be. I bet they still moan about such things on Fair Isle...


  1. The last three sentences sum up perfectly the local birders lot. We could do with six of your list of rarities down here at Holmethorpe!

    1. There is a perverse worthiness in what we do Neil...